Bird Lore: Cooper’s Hawk

Photo by LeRoy VanHee
Photo by LeRoy VanHee

The young Cooper’s Hawk featured in LeRoy’s photo was hunting at the Edmonds Marsh one morning a week or so ago. It perched on the boardwalk railing long enough for close-up photo opportunities. This medium-sized hawk of the genus Accipiter is a year-round resident of the Puget Lowlands and much of the Olympic Peninsula except the higher elevations of Olympic National Park. In both the Olympics and Cascades it usually remains below the sub-alpine level.

The Cooper’s Hawk is an uncommon but regular visitor to public areas in Edmonds. It is also a regular hunter at backyard feeding stations because its diet is comprised of medium-sized birds (doves, jays, thrushes) and small to medium-sized mammals (chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and hares). This hawk captures prey with its feet and kills by repeated squeezing. It also kills prey by holding it under water until all movement stops.

The Cooper’s Hawk flies with stiff and choppy wingbeats alternating with short glides. It has a long tail that is rounded at the tip. Its wings are short and its head is somewhat flat but well proportioned to body size. When perched, it can swivel its head without moving its body.

The Cooper’s is a solitary hawk except during breeding season. While it is known as a woodland hawk, its nesting habitat is frequently more open. It has adapted well to city parks, riparian corridors such as Willow Creek and the Edmonds Marsh, and suburban developments. The male builds the nest, which is usually 25 to 50 feet above ground. The nest is a pile of sticks with a 27-inch diameter with a cup-shaped depression in the middle. That depression is lined with bark flakes and small green twigs. The male provides food for his mate and their chicks over a 90-day period until the young are out of the nest.

The Cooper’s Hawk is often silent but it does make a keh-keh-keh call when around its nest, which you can listen to here:

– By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

4 Replies to “Bird Lore: Cooper’s Hawk”

  1. Thanks for this great photo and discussion of the Cooper’s Hawk. I once witnessed a Cooper’s Hawk drown a Starling. We have a small man made pond in our front yard. One day I was working outside and heard a horrible screech. I looked up and saw a Cooper’s Hawk flying toward our pond with the Starling in his talons. The Hawk landed on a rock in the pond, looked directly at me and pushed the Starling under water. I froze as I was only about 10 feet away. The Hawk stared at me the entire time the Starling was under water. When it was over, he flew off with his prey.

    I’ve seen Cooper’s Hawks around our home periodically. When the other birds are very quiet, I suspect a Cooper’s Hawk may be nearby.


  2. Thanks for sharing that hunting incident, Ken. When yard birds go silent in winter, look for either the Cooper’s or smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk on the prowl for smaller birds. These two Accipiters can be difficult to distinguish. Sharp-shinned breeds at higher elevations so is more scarce in Edmonds in summer and a bit more common in fall and winter.


  3. At my parents house in North Seattle-about 5 miles from Edmonds-(years ago) we had a Coopers Hawk as regular visitor. Our house backed up to the head of the ravine to Carkeek Park. I had bird feeders out, & from reading this article, I learned that the Hawk was after the smaller birds who frequented the feeders. Thanks for enlightening me! The Coopers Hawks are beautiful !


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